Namie Amuro has been flourishing in her senior year as a pop singer: everything she does is cool and effortless. She is a master of keeping her audience interested with her quiet, unassuming presence, her lack of social media exposure, and her insistence on a level of professionalism that defies logic. She’s the blueprint of what the media might call an “ice queen.” She’s where fans still find inspiration for everything from fashion to ambition. There’s no shortage of hardworking women in pop, but Amuro is almost obsessed in her pursuit of making it look so easy, without ever sacrificing her privacy.
Despite that, it’s no secret that all of the songs on _genic were selected by Amuro using a simple process: as soon as she heard the intro. Despite the fact that less and less singles are being released by our living legend (and when Amuro does, they don’t even appear on albums anymore — her excuse? they mess up the vibe), each song on _genic could be a hit song: it grabs you and piles on hook after hook, like the opening guitar of “Photogenic” which literally boasts its best feature upfront. From the blaring horns on “Golden Touch” (and its viral PV), to the pleasant number of dance-pop show pieces like “Scream” and “Stranger,” the album is textbook pop. Some of the best songs aren’t even the obvious ones (my personal favorite is “Space Invader,” where she cheer leads a series of irritations that segue into exposing grievances against the most annoying person you know; it’s a fuck you, but classy-like), like the unassuming grace of the only slow song on the album, “Anything,” a kind of updated “Heartplace” on acoustic guitar.
Of all of my favorite female solo singers, I can see how Namie Amuro might be pinned smack dab in the middle, neither safe, nor too risky. Hers is a calculated sound, the pop music that can’t fail, that’s so inoffensive it might be boring. It’s easy to dismiss the album because there’s only one “Golden Touch,” and a dozen “Neon Lipsticks,” or because there’s an opaque shield over the entire affair. No, this album is for those of us who go nuts when we watch Amuro perform and finally catch her crack an unintended smile, a small giggle, a tiny glimpse into the human behind the carefully crafted pop star who’s so determined to keep us happy, but guessing.